Antique pharmacy

Ancient Alchemy in Matters of the Heart

Antique pharmacy

There may actually be too many things percolating in my head this morning, for any of them to come together into a cohesive thought, but I’m going to try.

I am happy to announce that I do not think it is possible for words or books to disappoint me. Wednesday evening I finished book two in the All Soul’s Trilogy, by Deborah Harkness, and I’d told my husband that I was worried that this book was going to ruin me for novels for a while – that nothing else would satisfy like the richness of the characters or storyline in this book. I’d also told a single friend, that reading this book might ruin her for romance, because men in real life won’t be able to live up to the expectations planted by this story. There too, I believe I am mistaken.

As much as I plotted out potential comebacks to my words because of the well-crafted lines I had read, and as much as that made many ordinary men in my youth seem lacking, the time did come when a man surprised me with wit and romance beyond my wildest dreams, and he really did sweep me off my feet, and continues to do so. I was practically an old maid before I was married, single deep into my thirties, but as each passing year of marriage passes, the long time of yearning that was my teens and twenties and thirties seems to diminish, and the fullness of my life today takes on even more beautiful proportions.

At least my friend has her head on better than I did. She knows that reading great books will only make her stronger and that expectations for a great love needn’t be a downfall but a protection from settling for someone who won’t truly be able to satisfy her.


The book I have been reading goes into great detail about the sweeping alchemical history behind the search for the formula necessary to create the Philosopher’s Stone. It not only purportedly would turn base metal into gold, but could answer life’s questions, was the elixir of life, would give access to total enlightenment, and was the fulfillment of The Great Work, not only transforming metals, but transforming souls, bringing out the gold of character to replace the base.

The history behind this idea is so far reaching that it involves most of the disciplines of thought – science, philosophy, the spiritual world, the arts, and can be found suffusing all of the great civilizations.

So, it’s a big deal. So I put down book two, and know that I have a wait until I can get my hands on book three, and was literally dreading the down time in between, wondering if there were a book in existence that could satisfy my hunger for the resolution of this storyline.

I picked up a book of Philosophy called, “Does Santa Exist: A Philosophical Investigation,” by Eric Kaplan, a comedy writer and philosophical scholar behind “The Big Bang Theory.” Immediately, I was sucked in and loving it.

When the bell went off that it was time to go get the kids out of bed and stop reading, I put the book down with a sigh, and remarked to my husband that I was delighted to be proved wrong – that I cannot be disappointed by books or words, that the novel hadn’t ruined me, only enhanced my thirst for more and more interesting things to read.


Last night at dinner, my boys were being especially unruly. I was sitting tight-lipped and not myself, frustrated that they cannot come to the table and be nice. Why must they argue incessantly? I felt like there was something completely off in me – that I can’t be my true self around them, that I have a duality of character, that I can be fun and delighted and encouraging and amazed around other adults, and find myself reined in around my very own children, because if I give them an inch, they’ll take a mile, and they are always so overdoing it and wild. I want to be this amazing mom, and instead, sometimes, I feel like my only option is to clamp down and try to contain them because they are explosive in energy, enthusiasm, imagination, and volume. They are either the very best of friends, or trying to destroy one another, which, I hear is common in boys – just really overwhelming to me.

As I was washing dishes, the character in this latest novel came to mind. She also tried to contain, and lived a life of strictness over herself, not allowing her skills or powers to blossom. She held on too tight, and had to learn to allow things to happen that she didn’t have full control over, to allow magic to work through her.

I thought of the Philosopher’s Stone, of turning my base character into gold. I wondered if I could affect my outlook on my children by allowing things to happen that are uncomfortable to me, and not always in control, but the way boys behave. I wondered if instead of shutting them down, I treated them like my poet friends, who I have nothing but encouragement for. I feel alive in the presence of other poets and their words. It feels like a great and wild and beautiful gathering of festive minds. Well, my own children are just about the most festive minds I know – inventive, inquisitive, inspired by anything and everything. Where did I get the idea that I am to try to direct them toward calm and collected, and why would I so desire quiet when they have so much noise to offer?

One of the things that bothers me most is when Ben tries to constantly correct Bean. But in truth, he gets that from me. And to create change and influence a more harmonious world for us, I need to be open to letting them be and not always thinking my job is to correct and direct, but embrace, encourage and enjoy.

This turning base into gold is no easy task. So much of me wants to hold tight because they are so much. They are so much wild and fierce and brave and strong. They are so much whimsy and creation. They are so much bright and golden on their own, untapped and unrelenting. They are so much of what I crave in my own life, but somehow think that unfettered is dangerous and scary. I have so much to learn from them, and the thought of letting them fly with all the wind of their own dreams beneath their wings is at once terrifying and alarming, and yet exhilarating. What am I so afraid of – that they will live and be wild? That I will let my hair down and let them?

And so we go forward, seeking wisdom, embracing the unknown and allowing the delicious words of others to inspire us to become all that we were ever meant to be.


Incredible – in light of what I was just writing about this morning: Bean shared a dream over breakfast.

In his dream, I drank a potion we found in an antique store. And Ben drank a potion too.

Ben’s potion made him nice and they didn’t fight anymore. My potion made me mean. I asked him if anything counteracted the mean potion. Ben asked if it wore off.

Bean said I went into my room and the potion wore off, but when I came out of my room, I’d also forgotten everything, and Ben and he had to teach me.

The potion turned me into a blank slate. I think that is completely amazing. The words that come out of my little six-year old!


“I Will Not Pretend That My Hands Don’t Work”


When Scott and I were first married, and setting up our home together, I was unpacking boxes of files to put into the office, and came across an envelope full of sentences he’d had his boys write as a consequence for behavior that got them into trouble. I sat on the floor flipping through these pages, laughing until I cried. Scott didn’t ever just have them write, “I will not hit my brother.” He always made the sentences loop around to make a second line, so that it was impossible to go down line by line saying, “I, I, I, I, – will, will, will, will,” etc.

I found, “I will not get mad at my clothes,” and could imagine a meltdown of dramatic proportions that came before the sentence writing.

My favorite was always, “I will not pretend that my hands don’t work.” Scott came home and found me looking through the pages, and started telling me stories of Joey, standing at the kitchen sink, literally trying to get out of doing the dishes by flopping his hands around and saying they didn’t work.

A couple of weeks ago, Scott got really ill, and I took on the daily milking of the goats for him so he could rest. By about day four, after milking two goats morning and night, my left hand was so non-cooperative, that I could go through all the proper motions to milk, and nothing was happening. My hand was weak from not doing this on a consistent basis, and it was all I could do that night to finish the job. I came in and told Scott about it, and he just smiled at me and said, “I will not pretend that my hands don’t work.”

So, after a week of handling the job, my hands have gained the strength to keep going, and I offered to do the milking in the morning as we are getting closer to colder weather, and it’s dark in the morning. It makes no sense for Scott to go out there in the dark to do all the animal chores, and then go work all day in the cold, when I could let him sit in the house for a few more minutes in the morning, and handle all the animals after I’ve gotten everyone off to work and school.

Somehow, every morning when I’m milking the goats, this has become a mantra running over and over again in my mind, “I will not pretend that my hands don’t work.”

And I started thinking of the other things I put off because I’m just being lazy or I don’t want to manage being disciplined enough to do them. Like writing every day, because, as I’ve said over and over again throughout my life, writing is soul work for me. It keeps me grounded and it is my spiritual practice. It is the thing that helps me wrap words around thoughts floating in and out of reach, and pull them close to gaze upon them and make sense of them.

Writing helps me view the world more poetically, more beautifully, more attentively. Writing as a daily exercise keeps my mind strong, and my heart in balance; it keeps dark thoughts from building up and becoming monsters. My children find me a better mom when I’m taking the time to do this for myself, and I can see them as the poems I am writing every day.

This blog has been barely used for most of this year, because I got busy, and then I didn’t know how to catch up, and I’m not going to bother with catching up. Life has been busy. The boys are bigger and louder and much more active, more inquisitive, and their play is rougher and crazier. It’s a bit of a three-ring circus sometimes, which is all the more reason for me to sit down and find a center every day, and lose myself in the page for a moment.

“I will not pretend that my hands don’t work.”


Muzzles, Snouts or Beaks


Yesterday, on the way to music lessons, there was a lively conversation in the car between my six-year old and my nine-year old about whether the word muzzle and snout could be used interchangeably. Ben is a huge reader, and he was saying that a writer will use muzzle instead of snout sometimes, and then other times talk about a snout. At first I thought that it could be a synonym of some sort, but in certain animals it doesn’t work. One wouldn’t call a pig’s snout a muzzle. Then Bean piped in that he believed cows have beaks.

Ben and I tried to convince Bean that cows by no stretch of the imagination have beaks, that those are only for birds, but Bean wasn’t budging.

I remembered seeing a mammal of some sort with a beak, but it was in a movie. It was a scary creature, on the White Witches side of the battle in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. As I was trying to describe it to the boys, it dawned on me that many of the scary creatures of imagination have no noses at all, like Voldemort in the Harry Potter stories, and the ugly Orck in The Hobbit.

We started talking about why scary creatures often have no noses, and decided that it must be because they are representing something from the side of death. A skeleton has no nose. Bean didn’t believe me, he is certain our noses have a bone, but we have a skeleton head from when Ben wanted to be a doctor, and there is most certainly no bone there.

From here, the discussion shifted into the realm of imagination and myth. Ben suggested that maybe if something is only in the mind of one person, like in their own dream or nightmare, it is simply called something imaginary. If the something is known or imagined by a large group of people, or the whole world, it becomes myth – it is something envisioned on a large-scale.

These are the conversations made possible by reading and immersion in fairy tales.


This week I finished one of the best books I can remember reading in a very long time. It was so good, I didn’t want it to end. I wanted to stay in the world of Island Books, the village, their book clubs and reading circles, the families, and the love stories of nerdy literature lovers forever. I slowed my pace way down and savored the book.

Yesterday afternoon, the boys walked in on me as I was finishing the last pages, and crying. I wasn’t sobbing. I had tears running down my face. I couldn’t stop them. Every word of this book was exquisite. “All the right words in all the right places,” – a line from the book. Truly. And the ending perfectly fit the rest of the book, and I was mourning the loss of such beauty.

Bean asked, “Is this the book you didn’t want to finish because it was so good?”

“Yes, Honey, which is why I’m crying. But here I am at the end, and I very much want to see what happens.”

This is one that will stay with me.


It makes me happy that my boys like to read, and are already devouring books on their own. I cherish that we can discuss books and ideas, and bounce thoughts around for fun.


photo from here

The book I was reading: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry (Affiliate link)

The Tapestry of Intention


Recently, I’ve gotten back to a daily writing of poetry in the early morning. I have also been going through another one of Julia Cameron’s writing challenge books, “Walking in this World,” and was instructed to write about my intention for writing. Continue reading


Today in Adorable-Land!

Yesterday, we got our first batch of chicks for this year. Scott brought one in to sit on Bean’s shoulder, with the resulting overload of cute!

And our goat, Madrone, our very first goat – had two baby boys. It is difficult to get good pictures of the babies out in the barn this soon, with the light and everything. So Scott brought the one with the ridiculous ears in this morning for a pose. You cannot possibly imagine how soft their fur is, or how snuggly they can be. Precious beyond words!




Open-Mic Poetry Gathering

Did I ever show you this handmade gift from Benjamin this year? Talk about a gift that went straight to my heart. I have never cried more over a present in my life. That he knew my deepest desire, and created something to represent me getting that artistic need fulfilled… If you look closely, there are tubes up on the stage to put each of the sitting people into to help them stand. And there is an open seat in the audience. This is a working model of an Open-Mic night. You can move various audience members up onto the stage for their moment in the spotlight.

Ben has been to an Open-Mic night with me and knows how one works. That time, he read one of his poems.

Christmastime at our house was a bit dramatic this last year – with lots of snow and ice and freezing pipes and pregnant animals to care for in the middle of all that. Ben started making things for each of us because we just weren’t getting the tree up or presents under it quick enough. He ended up making our tree – out of a tall lamp and lampshade, and everything to go with it – out of paper.


Throw-Back Thursday: Another Year, Another Show

These photos are all from the 2009 show, Strengthen Me with Raisins. Back in 2007, I performed my very first Poetry Show as part of the Rogue Festival in Fresno, CA. I was 39 years old, and I floated away from my first Standing Ovation, not physically touching the ground.

These are the shows I did back in California.

2007 – Come Now I Will Test You With Pleasure
2008 – Again, You will Take Up Your Tambourines
2009 – Strengthen Me With Raisins
2010 – Every Other Beat of My Heart

The first one, honestly, I had no idea how to name it, and so I made a deal with God that I would put my finger down at random in the Bible, and name my show whatever words I discovered there. When I landed on, “Come now I will test you with pleasure,” from the Song of Solomon, I gasped, and clutched. I didn’t want anyone to think my show was seedy. I talked to a few friends, and my dad, who is a pastor, and my pastor at the time to get their opinion, and they all said to go with it. As it turns out, God was a really good Marketing Guy that year. More people showed up to my poetry show than I could have imagined, and many said they didn’t normally like poetry, but thought they’d give it a try – the title was intriguing.

The second and third shows were also named after obscure verses of scripture which had also been incorporated into poems. The last show was a quote that Scott used about me when he was describing how much he loved me to a client. He said, “She is every other beat of my heart,” and I realized that he may be more of a poet than I’ll ever be. He says gorgeous things. I just observe and write down what I see.

Then, we moved to Oregon in 2010, and as much as I wanted to drive down to Fresno to continue participating in the Rogue Festival, it wasn’t possible. It has been four years without a show. Then, last week, I saw a Call to Artists for a new Fringe Festival in Ashland, Oregon – which is just a hop, skip and a jump from here. As I was reading up on it, I found that they want Combinations – two or more artistic expressions in each show. So, I asked Ben if he would like to do a show with me combining his Paper-craft and my Poetry. He said Yes!

This will be our first show together. He has so much to display, so much of his heart and his focus and determination to create. He wakes up every single day with a plan and will focus on it until he creates what is in his head. There is art all over our house, lining every hallway. His art supplies are everywhere as well, he stuffs the laundry room with cardboard. If he’s shopping with me, any grocery store worker he sees carrying empty boxes, he’ll stop and say, “Can I have those please? I’m an artist.” And always, without fail, people hand over their cardboard to him and ask him about his art.

The deadline for submissions is tomorrow, and I’m still trying to come up with a title. We have thought of all sorts of things, and nothing is screaming to me – “Yes! That’s It!” yet.

At first, Ben and I thought we could name our show 9:47 – representing his age and mine at the time of our first show. But, Scott is vetoing the name 9:47 as too basic. I am wracking my brain for a good title. What a crazy-making proposition – to try to encapsulate in two or three words the art and poetry surrounding and encompassing the two of us. Ben is both mentor and muse to me, as well as daily strife. I have until tomorrow to come up with something.

Of course, Ben wants it to include “The Amazing…” as part of the title.

Oh, Help!

For most of today, I’ve been going round and round in my head, and on scratch paper, trying to come up with a title. Finally, I pulled for some inspiration and read about laughing in the face of struggles. Rather than stress about this, I want to refocus my energies on coming up with words that come to my mind when presented with a big pile of paper. I can’t wait to fill it. Ben can’t wait to cut it or fold it into a sculpture. He sculpts. I scribble. Ah!


Sculpt & Scribe

Son, Mom, Paper-craft, Poetry


Benjamin Garner & Liesl Garner

What do you think?!





Where to from here?


For the last week, I’ve been mulling over the reckless idea of a Singleness of Purpose. It floors me, the thought. I’ve been wondering about it almost nonstop – as if the quest for a Singleness of Purpose has been my purpose lately. Who are the people who seem to have one? People who dedicate large swaths of time to writing a book, who research and delve in, get to know the subject, who faithfully tell a story from beginning to end. Or someone like Columbus, whose whole mission in life was to sail across the ocean, and everything he did was for that aim.

I complained to my sister over the phone about this, thinking out loud about how does one have such dedication to a lifelong task, and she pointed out that Columbus didn’t have children.

That seems to razzle-dazzle the whole thing, there, doesn’t it? There doesn’t ever seem to be a point when we can think, “I’ve got this!” To me, it always feels like I’m in a mad scramble to catch up to my kids, or keep up with them (audible laughter).

This was my kick for the last little bit, after sending Ben back to school, wondering where to put my focus next. There are so many projects. There are so many jobs attached to my name. We farm, and my seeds aren’t even in little pots to start yet and already there are flowers blooming all over town. I need to get on that. My husband has been the one handling most of the farming lately, and he needs help. I need to get my muck boots on and get out there and help with some cleaning projects, and organizing projects. We need to get our chicks for the year.

And I started cooking again. Not just to get food to the table, but with a desire to learn to love it. I scoured the bookshelves for something to inspire me, because the most I know how to do with vegetables is steam them. There must be more to it, and if I could learn how to present them, we might be more excited about the chore of growing them.

It started to feel that everything was a chore. So much work to do. So many piles of laundry. So many dishes. So much paper sent home from school. I was spinning in listlessness with too much to do.

Then I remembered, that I’m a poet. It has been a long time since I put a pen to paper. My laptop has been broken, and this computer is meant for work, so I try to keep them separate. But my heart sees poetry in everything. My mother told me long ago that the poems I am writing these days, are my children. She said this once when I was bemoaning the lack of time to focus on my craft. And when she put it in this way, I realized that every moment spent with my children is etching lines of poetry on their hearts and mine. I learned to enjoy rather than moan about it.

Which is to say, after some aimless wandering over the last couple of weeks, I remembered that I do have a singleness of purpose after all. It’s not perhaps as grand as to sail across an ocean and discover strange new lands. It is to fill my home with love and laughter, to see the poetry in boys who continually come to the door covered in mud, professing to having not seen that puddle at all. To see the poetry in meals tied together with the right spice, or bursting with color. To know that I tuck poetry in around the edges of my family’s days here because that is my center. Whether I’m actually writing it or not, that is my world view.

For some reason, that internal discussion was a bit of a battle. I want a direction. I want to know I’m heading somewhere. And the where for me at this point, is to settle in and do these things well. I am a bit of a rambler. It is often more fun for me to think about things than actually do them. And so, to see each job in my repertoire as stanzas of verse, makes the whole thing much more lovely. Mucking out a stall doesn’t have to be mundane, if I know it is creating something delightful somewhere else. All this goes to the garden, and all that will flourish eventually.

Oh, and then there’s the Goat’s Milk Soaps that we will be attempting. My Goat’s Milk Fudge flopped, but it was a fun experiment.

photo from here


Transition Time


It has been a while since I wrote anything here. I have to admit I’ve been a little discouraged and down, perhaps in a bit of a depression for the last couple of weeks. Despite all my best intentions, we have decided to put Ben back into regular school. He is doing well. He missed his friends. I think we both needed to try this. We had it in the back of our minds anytime things weren’t going well at school, that we could always just bring him home and teach him here. Well, it is so much more difficult than that.

He and I are both distracted easily by shiny objects, and sticking to any sort of plan was hard to do, plus, we are so much alike that we butt heads like my mother and I used to do. It took me becoming a grown-up to see her wisdom and regard her as a wonderful resource and inspiration. Before growing up, she annoyed me a little bit. I know Ben loves me, as I loved my mother, I just had a hard time taking instruction from her, and so it is with Ben.

We had a lot of fun, but we are moving back to a traditional schooling model, and getting me back to focused time in the office for our tree service.

We found that we were exhausted all the time. I was getting up at the crack of dawn to plan interesting lessons, that he was often less than thrilled to follow, and so my heart would hurt. Nothing about either decision was done recklessly – either to take him out of school or to put him back into school. Both decisions were hard and thought through from every perceivable angle. We thought we could do this, and now we know it will take a lot more discipline than we currently possess, if we ever decide to try this again.

I am thinking that I would rather be the mom who encourages some fun explorations and plans art excursions – rather than the one coming up with every lesson. I would rather them get their basics from their teachers, and let me tuck in all the fun, wild adventures around the edges. That is way more up my alley.

Yesterday Ben came home from school whistling. I cannot tell you how much that fed my soul.

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